Doing Something About It

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Like many Americans, I woke up the morning after the election in shock. No, not shock—more like an alternate reality, since what I felt was foreboding and eerily familiar. 

Creative Common / Liz Lemon

The truth is I had been feeling that way for months. That creepy, crawly sensation of dread began when Donald Trump took to the campaign trail and debate stage, lashing out at everything and everyone, including his fellow Republicans, with words that were mean, cruel and downright nasty. And no one did anything to stop him. 

Over the years, whenever I heard people talk about having a “calling,” I always wondered what they meant. Were they called to action by a mentor, or inspired by someone they admired? Did they hear a voice inside their heads? Hell, did they hear a voice outside their heads? Nothing like that happened to me. I just knew I had to stand up, in whatever way I could, and say NO. The red flags were swirling around me—warning flags, not the old Soviet one—prodding me, and many others, to wake up.

My personal red flag came early in the Republican debates, when I had one of those bizarre dreams that seems frighteningly real. It went like this: I’m driving with my friend Terry through the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago, where I live. Glancing in the rearview mirror, I’m surprised to find Donald Trump sitting in the back seat. I couldn’t remember picking him up, but politely asked where he wanted me to drop him. 

“Carnival Grocery Store,” he barks, referring to a shop near my house.

“OK,” I say, but I’m thinking, “Sheesh. Keep your pants on!” Terry pipes up and says she thinks Carnival has closed. “This is my neighborhood,” I reply, slightly irritated. “I would’ve heard about that.” 

“Take me to Carnival grocery store!” Trump shouts—louder this time—and then mocks me in an obnoxious, squeaky voice. “It’s my neighborhood. I live here.” 

I don’t even sound like that. Erupting, I pull a U-turn into the ally next to the Carnival and tell Trump to get the hell out of my car. Smirking, he lumbers through the store’s glass door. I look up at the Carnival sign and shudder. It depicts a circus strongman, who looks frighteningly like Trump, wearing a cap that suggests his bizarre blonde comb-over, holding a towering platter of food. (Spoiler alert: This is what the Carnival sign really looks like, though I had never noticed how much it resembles Trump. Scary.)  

I used to be that person who’d say, “Why doesn’t someone do something?” About Iraq. About Syrian refugees. About the alarming gun violence in my own city. Then I decided to attend the Women’s March in Washington. 

I was nervous and scared but knew I couldn’t stay home and watch it on TV. I wondered if a woman in her fifties could answer the call to protest and resist this new reality. I shouldn’t have fretted. During that long but exhilarating day, I met women and men, many younger than me but some older, and we bonded and marched peacefully. At one stop, someone raised a handmade sign that asked my oft-repeated question: “Why doesn’t someone do something?” I ran over to take a photo and saw the flip side, which read: “Then I realized that someone was me.” 

So I am doing something—along with my family and friends. We march and write emails. We sign petitions and donate money. And we call our representatives. This feels familiar. I grew up in the sixties and seventies, when Old Town was a neighborhood of artists and hippies, with tourists flocking to Second City, Lincoln Park and the lakefront. As a child, I was surrounded by political discussion, not just around the dinner table but everywhere, even at the coffee counter at Norwell Drug. (Yes, drug stores used to have coffee counters.) It seemed like every week brought a new march or sit-in, most of them against the Vietnam War. Some were scarier than others, especially when the ’68 Democratic Convention came to town. 

We had our own bully back then—Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley—who used his police force to brutally crush the anti-war activists. The tear gas they fired at the protesters in Lincoln Park seeped through our windows that August, and when we called for help, the fire department told us to lay on the floor and put wet wash clothes on our faces. I was nine. Now our country is once again stirring, asking more from our leaders—and from each other. And once again, women are the leading figures in the resistance.

Decades after my last protest, waking up is indeed hard to do. But we women have Trump to thank for rousing us from our slumbers. Every misogynist tweet “validates every woman who has been doubted when she reports being harassed online or ridiculed walking down the street,” Alyssa Rosenberg wrote in the Washington Post. Trump reminded us of his deep contempt for women during the campaign, with his attacks on Megyn Kelly and Carly Fiorina and in his delight with grabbing women’s genitals because “when you’re a star they let you do it.” And more recently, we witnessed the courage of Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, who stood up to threats and bullying to vote against a disastrous health care bill. 

Lately I have been thinking of my late mother, and how she would have reacted to Trump. Jean Duff was a beautiful woman and liked men enormously. But she had strong opinions about what made them attractive, and good manners were at the top of her list. She had a favorite word for men were obnoxious, uncouth and full of themselves. She called them “blowhards.” 

Fully awake, I say no to this Bully-in-Chief! No, you don’t represent American values. No, we’re not going to let our country slide backwards with inadequate health care and an assault on a woman’s right to choose. No, we’re not going to let our children drift in an inadequate educational system and go hungry while both parents toil at low-paying jobs. We’ll say no to the proliferation of guns taking young lives, and the rollback of environmental protections that threaten our future. 

Resist? I’m on it.

Nora Duff is a storyteller, essayist and teacher. Her stories have appeared in various publications, including “From Dusk till Dawn,” an account of a dysfunctional family Thanksgiving, in Skirt magazine. “Showtime,” her account of her family’s ordeal during the stormy 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, and “Politics is Personal,” about her father’s preoccupation with Election Day, appeared in the Chicago Reader. “Showtime” was later collected in the book, South Loop Review. 

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  1. Again I thank you Nora Duff for your continual kindness and measured indignation – reminding us of who we are and why we are where we are. I’m with you!

  2. Paul Engleman says:

    Had your dream lasted longer, Trump might have come back out chomping on a well-done steak with lots of ketchup. Hope we can get him out of office, like you got him out of your car. Fine piece de resistance!

  3. Jessica Morgan says:

    This is a GREAT read!
    “But we women have Trump to thank for rousing us from our slumbers.” It’s time for America to wake up!

  4. Knowing Nora and her passionate nature, she is most definitely “on it”. I can only hope her words will inspire others to be on it because it’s not going to be a one person job to right the disconnect between Trump and the rest of the country who are not a part of his base…those who can see nothing wrong with anything he says or does.

  5. Nice piece Nora!

  6. Carol Brook says:

    Nora Duff’s beautifully written essay perfectly captures both the personal and the political reasons so many of us feel the urgent need to act.

  7. Nora writes passionately about Trump’s impact on women. She is right about his insulting, creepy, and misogynistic behaviors. And love her references to Carnival and Old Town, Chicago. I lived there for many years and also witnessed the cruelties of the late Mayor Richard Daley .

    Thanks for publishing this great piece.

  8. Great article. Here’s to all of us waking up from this nightmare and helping do something about it.

  9. Ms. Mandy Zaransky-Hurst says:

    Thank you for an article that reminds us that resistance and being a “someone” to “do something” doesn’t need to be a huge thing. Daily, weekly we can all donate, volunteer, stand-up for our rights now and for what we want the future to look like. The marches were galvanizing, but we must continue to push and protect. As a local Old Town gal, I’m curious to go see the Carnival Foods sign! Great piece.

  10. Steve Prosinski says:

    Excellent piece. Thanks for sharing it, Nora. “Alternate reality” indeed.

  11. Rebecca Shaffer says:

    What a great reminder that we all need to stand up and do something in the face of inequality. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But with loud voices and busy hands we can further the efforts.

  12. Apt article for this moment in time. Best line: “Why doesn’t someone do something?” I ran over to take a photo and saw the flip side, which read: “Then I realized that someone was me.” That someone is us. Resist, we’re on it.

  13. Carlin Twedt says:

    I think the night of Election Day was a waking nightmare for a lot of us. I remember getting cupcakes from Sprinkles with my fiancé earlier that night to celebrate Hillary’s victory, which seemed inevitable. I still get a sick feeling when I walk by that cupcake shop.

    If there’s any silver lining, it’s that activation of everyone who is participating in the women’s marches, science marches and all other worthy protests.

  14. Jack Doppelt says:

    I need recurring reminders, so thanks, Nora. Every time I hear Trump supporters now, it dawns on me the strain of neighborhood kids they remind me of from when I was growing up. They got a kick out of him making fun of other kids; they thought the tough guy or bad boy was cool, a leader; they reveled in egging him on as he mocked or picked on kids; they resented the student council types who treated them like dirt, the were impressed and jealous that he got the girls who fell for his bravado (the more gross, the better). They were angry then. They knew that America treated them as good for nothings, and they vented. Their parents fueled it or ignored it. There were more of them than we realize. I’d estimate from memory that they were about 38% of neighborhoods across the country. Across many countries. A smaller percentage, but a real number were kids who yelled obscenities, as did their parents, at blacks, at Jews, at Mexicans, at Asians when they moved into the neighborhood or enrolled in their school. Not limited to Alabama or Mississippi or Georgia, but Chicago and Boston, Milwaukee and Detroit. Dinner table conversations were the locker rooms of the day. Parents passed it along to the kids, who grew up and found their own ways to convert the in-your-face obscenities into discreet ways to keep minorities who were butting ahead in line from getting jobs or advancing in jobs where they worked. That’s a lot of pent up anger, and 38% are a lot of hearts and minds that Donald Trump knows how to poison.

  15. You are so right, we have to say NO and have a place to say this where we can be heard! You are also right…. Trump does resemble the original Carnival sign!! Sometimes this administration feels like a Carnival ride as well.

  16. Reven Fellars says:

    What could be more terrifying than a nightmare of Trump-uninvited-in the back seat of your car???
    Having him drive that car!!!
    How can we allow 34-36% of the country dictate agendas that will insure less regulation of food and water safety, lessen cooperation with other countries already enlightened about climate change, create a tax code to further thin the middle class while increasing the deficit, all the while trying to take away health insurance from millions???
    The current president seemingly cares more about “reviews” than listening and helping distressed U.S. citizens trying to recover from a natural disaster.
    The base is steering the leader. The leader has no true compass. North to South, East to West, depending on the critique, the day, and the last word in the ear. It is very disorienting. It will take resistance, character and true leadership -from both sides- to right this ship and throw the driver UBER.
    Thanks for the lead, Nora!!!!

  17. terry kocjan says:

    I watched presidential debates in disbelief. Trump kept walking behind Hillary as she spoke and no one stopped him. The entire campaign was not real. Then came that awful day and I was thinking when Senator Clinton was in office, why did she not raise the issue of the Electoral College? I kept feeling stupid because I forgot about it and Trump used it to trump Hillary. Why did we enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if we do not have one person on vote? All the bad things about our political system came to the surface, Hillary was so sure that sexism was dead that she completely ignored it.
    I voted for Hillary because Trump was not an option, but some men I know told me to them Hillary was not an option. So we need to organize and fix the system so guys like Trump cannot abuse it.

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